Tribute to country star George Hamilton IV by journalist Frye Gaillard

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Country music star George Hamilton IVWriter and historian Frye Gaillard was a long-time friend of country music legend George Hamilton IV, who died Wednesday. Gaillard’s tribute to Hamilton will be read at Hamilton’s memorial service.

I met George Hamilton IV in 1968 when I was a student at Vanderbilt and Robert Kennedy was visiting our campus when he was running for President. We heard that Kennedy was going to be 45 minutes late and we asked George if he would entertain the crowd of 11,000 people. George agreed. But Kennedy turned out to be two hours late and George played the whole time, keeping the crowd both riveted and patient. When the night was over, we sent George a $500 check as a modest token of our gratitude. He refused to accept it, saying that we had bestowed upon him one of the greatest honors of his life.

That was George Hamilton IV, a country music star who refused to act like one. If he had — if he had surrounded himself with the pomp and trappings of stardom — I have no doubt that he would already be in the Country Music Hall of Fame, a lapse, I assume, that could still be remedied. But George was much too humble for that, too human and fine to puff himself up, even in the wake of his #1 hit, “Abilene,” his ground-breaking albums full of Gordon Lightfoot songs, his introduction of songs by the greatest folk writers in North America — Joni Mitchel, Leonard Cohen, Phil Ochs — to a country music audience. If he had had a bigger ego, he would perhaps have been more impressed — more self-important in the memory — of friendships and close musical associations with Patsy Cline, Skeeter Davis, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, Chet Atkins and many, many more. Or for that matter, by the time he spent with Billy Graham and his multiple performances at Dr. Graham’s crusades.

George Hamilton IV did all of these things in the course of his career, and he did more than anyone in the modern history of country music to spread its gospel to an international audience — from Canada to Great Britain, from Czechoslovakia to New Zealand, even to what was then the Soviet Union.

But above all of this, George Hamilton IV was the kindest, gentlest soul I have ever met, a man who loved his beautiful wife, Tink, his sons, Peyton and George V, and his daughter, Mary, as much as a husband and father ever could. I am saddened by his death more than I have words to express. But I am gladdened by the fact that he spent his life doing what he loved. He thought of himself as a lucky man, and he was.

Almost as lucky as the rest of us, who knew him personally or listened to his songs, and therefore touched a little of his greatness.

In addition to their friendship, George Hamilton IV is profiled in Frye Gaillard’s history of country music, Watermelon Wine.

Texas loves South, America, new work of Southern noir from Rod Davis

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 by Blair Johnson

South, America: A Jack Prine novel by Rod Davis

Rod Davis’s new crime noir novel has made a sweep across Texas in the past few months. Davis’s book, South, America, has been featured in newspapers across the Lone Star state from San Antonio to Austin to Dallas. South, America, which tells the story of former Dallas reporter Jack Prine catapulted into the middle of a murder plot in pre-Katrina New Orleans, has been lauded by the following Texas media:

Jim Sherman, Texas Observer

“There is much here that brings to mind the Dave Robicheaux novels of James Lee Burke, and Burke’s norteamericano version of magical realism. For readers’ sakes … I sincerely hope those sequels are on the way.”

Yvette Benavides, San Antonio Express-News

“The backdrop of pre-Katrina New Orleans is perfect for [South, America]. Davis paints it in tones that show an abiding admiration for the place and its people, and a respect for its enigmatic beauty. A gritty slice of Southern noir.”

Michael King, The Austin Chronicle

“Engaging Southern noir. There are enough loose ands here to provide Prine, and his author, with a few leads into another mystery, or more. Laissez les mauvais temps rouler.”

Gary Jacobson, Dallas Morning News

“A thriller. Author Rod Davis had me right from the start of his new novel. He sets a lively pace, with [Jack] Prine a strong addition to the growing roster of fictional Dallas investigators.”

Laura Carter, San Antonio Current

“The more the web of secrets untangles, the more engrossing the read. And even those who think they’ve figured it all out long before the last pages will likely get a jolt from a couple of late plot twists. Davis is a born storyteller.”

Additionally, the highly regarded Texas Institute of Letters has featured a quite favorable mention of Rod Davis and his new book. Davis was recently inducted in the TIL.

The buzz about South, America isn’t limited to Texas by a long shot. In the coming months Davis will be appearing at literary festivals in Nashville, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans, among others. And, of course, the Texas Book Festival in Austin.

Rod Davis’s South, America is available in paperback and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Inspirational author Shelley Stewart receives honors from Vulcan Park and Regions Bank

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

Mattie C.'s Boy: The Shelley Stewart StoryShelley Stewart, author of the inspiring memoir Mattie C.’s Boy: The Shelley Stewart Story, as told to Don Keith, will be honored at the inaugural Vulcan Awards presented by the Vulcan Park and Musuem at a ceremony on Oct. 2 at The Club in Birmingham. According to, Dr. Stewart will receive the Hero Award, given in recognition of his many contributions to the civil rights movement, including helping to organize and promote via radio key events such as the Children’s March of 1963.

Dr. Stewart was also the recipient of the 2014 History in Motion Award, given by Regions Bank, for the work done by his advertising firm 02ideas. Regions profiled Dr. Stewart in the video “Dr. Shelley Stewart: Something Within.” In the video Stewart recounts stories from his boyhood following the tragic murder of his mother by his father and the hardships he endured, as well as the encouragement he received from others who made a difference in his young life. He also discusses his entry into radio, his work in the civil rights movement, and the establishment of The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, named in his mother’s honor, the mission of which is to encourage children to stay in school. The video concludes with a salute to Stewart’s optimistic spirit.

Shelley Stewart, speaking at the National Book Club Conference, August 2014
Dr. Stewart was a featured guest at National Book Club Conference, held in Atlanta August 7-9, where he spoke about Mattie C.’s Boy to an appreciative audience (pictured).

Mattie C.’s Boy: The Shelley Stewart Story is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Sheldon Hackney remembered by Dixie Redux essayists and Chilmark Author Series

Friday, August 29th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Dixie Redux: Essays in Honor of Sheldon Hackney

Friends and contributors to Dixie Redux: Essays in Honor of Sheldon Hackney came together at a July 31 program to remember Hackney, as part of the Chilmark Author Lecture Series at Martha’s Vineyard.

The panel discussion, lead by journalist and friend of Hackney’s Charlayne Hunter-Gault, included a selection of the Dixie Redux contributors (each authors and scholars in their own right) Vernon Burton, Ray Arsenault, Steven Hahn, and Patricia Sullivan.

Hackney was born in Birmingham, Alabama. During his long career he served as provost of Princeton, as president of the University of Pennsylvania and Tulane University, and as chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities.

Burton and Arsenault conceived Dixie Redux — a festschrift, or book written in honor of a mentor — prior to Hackney’s recent diagnosis with ALS and death in 2013 at age 79; NewSouth Books published it just weeks after his passing. Hackney had been Burton’s Ph.D. advisor at Princeton and Arsenault worked as Hackney’s research assistant at Princeton. Burton told the Vineyard Gazette in March 2014 that they “wanted to show [Hackney]‘s intellectual ideas, and how he influenced others in terms of their ideas and writings of the American South. … [Hackney] was foremost one of the great historians of the American South.”

In response to a Vineyard Gazette obituary of Hackney, Hunter-Gault wrote, “Sheldon Hackney showed the world how to be a great human being, a fine Southern gentleman, and a dear friend who never said no when asked a favor — large or small. He will always be a presence in my soul as one of our greatest teachers of all things good. from great and unpedantic scholarship to the love of a double gin martini.”

The essays in Dixie Redux deal with issues of interest to Hackney and his students, including slavery, the Civil War, Emancipation, the African American experience, and the Civil Rights Movement. The book includes an essay by Hackney himself about his own mentor, southern historian C. Vann Woodward.

Chilmark Author Series Program in honor of Sheldon Hackney

Pictured: From left, at the Chilmark Author Lecture Series event, Lucy Hackney (Hackney’s widow), Susan Wishingrad, Patricia Sullivan, Vernon Burton, Steven Hahn, Waldo Martin, Ray Arsenault, and Declan McBride (Hackney’s grandson).

Four Generations of C. Vann Woodward Scholarship

Four Generations of C. Vann Woodward Scholarship. Pictured: Sheldon Hackney, student of C. Vann Woodward, third from left; Vernon Burton, student of Sheldon Hackney, fifth from left; Woodward, sixth from left; and a half-dozen of Burton’s graduate students.

Dixie Redux: Essays in Honor of Sheldon Hackney is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Huffington Post blog spotlights Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th Century

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th CenturyA Huffington Post blog entry by Erika DeSimone spotlights Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th Century, co-edited by DeSimone and Fidel Louis and recently released by NewSouth Books. In the blog post, “The Literary Movement America Forgot,” DeSimone shares her insights into “history-through-omission,” which developed while she and Louis were researching the book.

She writes:

As we groped through countless reels of microfiche and exhumed hundreds of poems, we came to more fully understand the rich cultural and literary heritages of African Americans, heritages that have largely been subsumed in popular history by the horrific reality of slavery in America and our shameful race-based human chattel bondage system.

Omission-history tells us that slavery was the only identity of African Americans in the 19th century, but this is not the case. Relatively sizable populations of free African Americans existed in cities like New York and Boston, while smaller communities dotted the landscapes of Border States, the northeast, and America’s territories. And, of course, not all southern African Americans were enslaved. But while these people were sadly, inarguably marginalized, often wholly invisible to society at large and for the most part completely segregated from Anglo society, they were not universally without resources or voice.

In 1827 the efforts of three freeborn New York City African American clergymen — Samuel E. Cornish, John B. Russwurm, and Peter Williams Jr. — birthed the nation’s first black-owned and operated newspaper. When Freedom’s Journal hit the newsstands, it marked the first moments of an unprecedented revolution in American media. As the sole black-controlled publication in the nation, this four-page weekly was the first to focus on content of interest to African American communities (something woefully absent from mainstream media) and was refreshingly, blissfully, free of the usual clutter of socially demeaning ads. Although initial circulation was small, the Journal was lauded by the abolitionist/liberal media for its fine reporting and touched off what would become a veritable maelstrom of black-owned presses to follow.

Perhaps what is most surprising about Freedom’s Journal is not merely its existence in an era of such segregation, but that the paper — which had no shortage of topics to cover — reserved in every issue an open-call column for poetry, thereby creating and nurturing a creative space for African Americans, making the Journal truly the voice of its readership.

Read Erika DeSimone’s full essay in the Huffington Post.

Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th Century is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Crooked Letter I LGBT Essayists Respond to Human Rights Campaign Alabama Survey, Part 3: Elizabeth Craven

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Crooked Letter I: Coming Out in the South, edited by Connie GriffinCrooked Letter I, an anthology of Southern-themed LGBT coming out stories, will be published by NewSouth Books in 2015. This week we’ve been posting thoughts by some of the anthology contributors about a recent survey of LGBT Alabamians conducted by the Human Rights Campaign in Alabama. Read the first and second parts of this series, with thoughts from Susan Benton and B. Andrew Plant. The third and final submission is from Elizabeth Craven:

Kith and kin, faith and family, loyalty to the land, the culture and the lifestyle marks a Southerner. Yet all the institutions that defines a life: home, work, worship, these are the very places where Southern gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people feel most threatened. Fear of rejection feeds a the narrative that the South is a closed culture.

This survey of the LGBT community in Alabama paints a more complex picture. Perhaps not one of the urban gay life the media loves. Perhaps not a land of all happy endings … but a place where people with roots fight for another definition of family, an expansion of community, a challenge in and out of the church. One weapon in this fight is one of the most cherished in Southern life — the story. The coming out story of gay men in overalls, Grandmothers loving transsexual grandchildren, people in porch swings learning to accept another kind of difference. Sometimes slowly, sometimes painfully people in the South open their eyes to their “other” children, their “other” coworkers, their “other” choir members.

The South changes in a very Southern way The survey shows much work needs to be done. Yet, one by one, people in the South are speaking out. These changes can be forced by law but they are solidified by relationship. Gay culture needs some Southern spice, but the South needs her gay children, and their gay stories. After all, these are stories of home. The survey makes one thing very clear. More and more LGBT people are choosing to live, to love, and to raise their children openly in the South. Change is coming.

Crooked Letter I will be available direct from NewSouth Books or from your favorite bookstore in 2015.

Crooked Letter I LGBT Essayists Respond to Human Rights Campaign Alabama Survey, Part 2: B. Andrew Plant

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Crooked Letter I: Coming Out in the South, edited by Connie GriffinCrooked Letter I, an anthology of Southern-themed LGBT coming out stories, will be published by NewSouth Books in 2015. This week we’re posting thoughts by some of the anthology contributors about a recent survey of LGBT Alabamians conducted by the Human Rights Campaign in Alabama. Read the first part of this series, featuring thoughts from Susan Benton. The second submission is from B. Andrew Plant:

Surveys like this are important because they underscore that, no matter how far we have come in terms of LGBTQ acceptance, many people live every day with discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It’s crucial for non-LGBTQ people to read that, in general, those in our community want the same things they do, like a home, family and to live and work without fear.

Too often, LGBTQ people have left their homes, whether it is the family home or their home state, so that they can be who they are and live openly. Obviously, the goal should be not just to realize that we are everywhere, but to work for a time when we will be able to live openly anywhere, without fear of harassment, job loss, denial of fundamental services like healthcare, or worse.

Particularly for us Southerners, it’s important to see that many LGBTQ people are indeed people of faith. We’re not outside those communities; we are part of them. Or many of us want to be. Maybe until those communities of faith welcome us on equal footing we need to redirect our time and dollars to organizations that do support us and which work to educate others.

It’s easy to compartmentalize organizations like HRC as being by and for gays of privilege or just for those of us in more urban areas. Surveys like this underscore broad outreach and the need for more of the same. After all, much of the South is not urban; we should be able to embrace that and be who we are where we are.

Crooked Letter I will be available direct from NewSouth Books or from your favorite bookstore in 2015. Come back tomorrow for another response to the survey from a Crooked Letter I contributor.

Crooked Letter I LGBT Essayists Respond to Human Rights Campaign Alabama Survey, Part 1: Susan Benton

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Crooked Letter I: Coming Out in the South, edited by Connie Griffin

According to a recent survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Alabamians conducted by the Human Rights Campaign in Alabama, most of those surveyed have lived in Alabama “for more than 20 years, donate to charitable groups and non-profits, want to have children one day, and many consider faith an important part of their lives, but large percentages of respondents also reported harassment throughout their lives, from school to work to church,” according to an article about the survey from

In 2015, Alabama-based NewSouth Books plans to release a book of Southern-themed LGBT coming-out stories, tentatively titled Crooked Letter I and edited by University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Dr. Connie Griffin. Three of the essay contributors — Susan Benton, B. Andrew Plant, and Elizabeth Craven — sent their thoughts on the survey. Today’s submission is from Susan Benton.

The results show that LGBT Alabamians are just like their friends and family members — living, working, volunteering, and going to church within their communities.

These words resonated with me more than any others in the HRC LGBT Alabamians survey. I often tell people that “I escaped from Alabama in 1981.” My college years were not happy ones for a young lesbian due to blatant discrimination. As an active church member, and church employee, I was always acutely aware of the danger I might be in should someone find out I was gay.

The USA has come a long way since I was a fifteen-year-old and finally finding a word to describe what I was feeling. The Supreme Court decision to overturn Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June 2013 has led to rapid change in many people’s way of thinking. While I’m not holding my breath that Alabama joins the Marriage Equality bandwagon any time soon, I do know that time will eventually bring Alabama into the fold.

We have made great progress, but in Alabama, I still have reason to be afraid. I am married to an Australian. When we visit my parents in Alabama, my spouse must always carry her documentation showing she has a right to be in the country. We must have copies of our marriage certificate, and our Medical Power of Attorney in case she must be admitted to a hospital, so that I am considered next-of-kin. Since Alabama does not recognize our marriage, we cannot and will not consider moving to Alabama.

The survey proves that we are human beings — no more and no less — than the people in our communities. We love our country, we love our families, we love our children, and many of us still try to find homes in religious organizations. I applaud the efforts of HRC Alabama to bring human rights to ALL people, and fervently hope that one day, I might be able to come home.

Crooked Letter I will be available direct from NewSouth Books or from your favorite bookstore in 2015. Come back tomorrow for another response to the survey from a Crooked Letter I contributor.

PBS debuts new American Experience documentary, Freedom Summer

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 by Blair Johnson

Freedom Summer documentary from American Experience/PBS

“I don’t think people understand how violent Mississippi was.”

PBS’s new documentary, Freedom Summer, which debuted June 24, begins with this foreboding statement that proves itself true by the end of the film. And what is perhaps most shocking about that violence is that it happened in the not so distant past. Written, produced, and directed by Stanley Nelson, Freedom Summer chronicles the titular 10-weeks of 1964 during which college students from across the country traveled to Mississippi to battle the existing racism that was preventing African Americans from exercising their right to vote. The documentary covers the summer from the first days of the college student volunteers to the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that went to challenge the all-white delegation at the Democratic National Convention, and to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that actually began during Freedom Summer.

Volunteers and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) staff from that summer share life-changing experiences in the film, some for the very first time. Linda Wetmore Halpern recalls being assaulted by a group of white men in a car while she was walking down a road. She recalled, “They started calling me ‘Hey, nigger lover! We got you. We finally got you. We ain’t killed ourselves a white girl yet. You’re going to be the first.’” The men then put a noose around her neck as they drove off in the car holding the other end, making her walk faster and faster until they finally dropped the other end of the rope. “And I just stood there. Because we had to wear skirts. We weren’t allowed to wear pants in those days, so we all had our little shifts on and everything. I peed all over myself. Just stood and just peed,” Halpern said.

While women involved with Freedom Summer were not always treated fairly, Stanley Nelson highlights two important women in his film: Fannie Lou Hamer, a leader of Freedom Summer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and Rita Schwerner, who was key in driving the search for three missing civil rights workers, including her husband. The press would hound Schwerner, hoping “that they would catch her at the moment of her widowhood [and see her cry], but she wouldn’t play.” The film highlights Hamer’s powerful testimony at the Democratic National Convention of 1964: “Is this America? The land of the free and the home of the brave? Where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hook. Because our lives be threatened daily. Because we want to live as decent human beings in America.”

Civil rights leader Bob Moses, featured in the film, reflects on Hamer’s influence on Freedom Summer and at the Democratic National Convention: “She had Mississippi in her bones. Martin Luther King, or the SNCC field secretaries, they couldn’t do what Fannie Lou Hamer did. They couldn’t be a sharecropper and express what it meant, right, and that’s what Fannie Lou Hamer did.”

The Freedom Summer documentary can be viewed on PBS or at the PBS website. NewSouth Books has published the following titles on Freedom Summer for those interested in learning more:

The Freedom Rides and Alabama: A Guide to Key Events and Places, Context, and Impact — Author Noelle Matteson recounts the events of the 1961 group of interracial riders and their experiences in Alabama from their arrival in Montgomery to the firebombing of their bus in Anniston.

The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement — The biography of Bob Zellner, the first white field secretary of SNCC, chronicling his experiences as a white Alabamian rejecting the Southern “way of life” he was raised on in pursuit of social change.

The Children Bob Moses Led — William Heath brings history to life in his fictionalized account of the Freedom Summer through the voices of real-life, legendary leader Bob Moses and a white volunteer college student.

Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs — Two classic collections of freedom songs (We Shall Overcome [1963] and Freedom is a Constant Struggle [1968]) are reprinted in a single edition to guide the reader through the history and experience of the Civil Rights Movement with sheet music for the songs, important documentary photos, and firsthand accounts by participants in the movement.

All of these titles are available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Remembering John Seigenthaler, with author John Pritchard

Thursday, July 17th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

From left, Ricky Skaggs, Doris Kearns Goodwin, John Seigenthaler, and John Pritchard

John Pritchard, author of three novels in the “Junior Ray” series, sent this remembrance of journalist and writer John Seigenthaler, who died in July 2014. (Pictured, Ricky Skaggs, Doris Kearns Goodwin, John Seigenthaler, John Pritchard.)

New South’s Randall Williams said it well about John Seigenthaler. Randall put it superbly, simply, and originally: “He was a good man who gave white Southerners a good name during our dark period of massive resistance, obstruction, and violence against civil rights.” As any Southerner with a lick of sense and an ounce of perspective would agree, that is a mammoth and most difficult achievement. Thus from a national as well as a regional perspective, Randall’s encapsulation gives high honor to a great person an awful lot of people regard as one of history’s finest.

John Seigenthaler was perhaps the most central and admirable personality that defined the Nashville I lived in during the 1970s. He was the apotheosis of integrity and of all that was serious and good. Anybody who knew him, even if they were his political opposites, held him in lofty esteem for the serious, smart, and incredibly intelligent human being he was. Indeed, John’s personal and professional record was well known.

He and I were by no means close friends, but we each had close friends who were close friends of us both. To John I was merely a familiar face and a good acquaintance, while he, in the geist and gestalt of that time and place, was a major figure in Nashville’s overall environment, and I was bumbling about in the thick of it there in my thirties and early forties. I lived in Nashville from the summer of 1970 until February of 1981. Like Memphis, Nashville was, in a social sense, a very small community. Everyone knew or knew about everyone else in all the odd and colorful corners of the city’s make-up — its politics, Music Row, Nashville’s huge academic community, downtown’s exceedingly high finance, dinner at Sperry’s Restaurant and late-night parties on Belle Meade Boulevard — it didn’t matter, anyone could be everywhere . . . plus, everyone was connected or outright related, either on purpose or accidentally. I loved it all, and for a long time, life there then was electric.

I taught school. I waited tables. I lucked up and landed a momentary part as an on-camera-double for James Hampton, in a Burt Reynolds film, W.W. and The Dixie Dance Kings, and I failed an audition at Opryland. They asked me if I could sing and dance, and I said, “No, but I will.” Yet most of all I learned how to write songs on Music Row, primarily in and around Ray Stevens’ Ahab Music, on Grand Avenue, and later over on 17th as a member of Tree International’s stable of close to ninety or a hundred other writers. Tree was the largest music publishing house in the world, and I think it is now Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, or some such, and, I am certain, has very little recollection of my existence. In any case I learned more on Music Row about a writer’s craft in general, by writing lyrics for pop and country songs, than at any other time or in any other place. All the principles involved in putting together a country song are exactly the same principles one applies in writing a short story or a novel. In any case, back then I was struggling to make a living.

Somehow John Seigenthaler was aware of my efforts, and one day in the summer of 1972 when I was waiting tables down on Elliston Place at the Ritz Cafe, John, who was eating lunch there with several others, called me aside and offered me a part-time job as a copy editor at the Tennessean. I had recently written and sold two feature pieces to the Tennessean, but I don’t think that had anything to do with John’s momentary life-saving offer, which I gratefully accepted.

I lasted less than a month on the rim, but produced what I have always thought was a dynamite headline — Smyrna Mayor Steers State Auto Group. However, because I was not adept in the math of making heads fit their space, my masterpiece broke and did not run. Nevertheless, even today I consider myself quite the clever headline-ist.

A few years later I had two full-time jobs — one as an English instructor and another as a full-time Metropolitan Deputy Sheriff for Nashville and Davidson County. As an English instructor I was employed by the Dominicans who adored John, and as a deputy I worked for John’s boyhood friend, fellow Democrat and Irish Catholic, Nashville’s High Sheriff, “Fate” Thomas. I didn’t get hired by either of those two entities because of John; I mention him only to illustrate my claim that everything there was in fact linked in what might accurately seem an infinite number of hooks and eyes. Anyhow, there I was, flanked by two enormous archetypes: Working for Mother Superior one one hand and on the other . . . for Father “Fate”!

The most direct reason I got the job as deputy was that Sheriff “Fate” Thomas decided he wanted to go to college to at least earn an associate’s degree, and he was my student. He often did not show up but would send one of his deputies to sit in class with a recorder and take notes. “Fate” performed remarkably well in Sophomore Lit. It was only later I discovered that everyone downtown in the Sheriff’s Office had had a role to play in writing “Fate’s” papers. But it was during that time that “Fate” told me he knew I needed extra employment and wondered if I would like to work for him as a deputy.

“Will I have a badge?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

I couldn’t wait to report for duty. I got the badge and was, like all my fellow deputies, forbidden to arrest anyone, ever, under any circumstances no matter what. That sort of enforcement was the job of the Nashville Police. As Sheriff’s deputies we did a thousand other things, and most of us, me included, only “went armed” when one or more of our county inmates escaped, which could mean they simply walked away with the visitors and went home. Whenever “an escape” happened, we deputies would “surround the house.” Bear in mind most of us were teachers, coaches, recently unemployed young people, and one of our number was the drummer in the band on Hee Haw. But in those days there in Nashville, if you were a Catholic or a Democrat — or even knew any Catholics and Democrats — you could be a deputy. And I was fortunate beyond words and in every direction.

Suddenly it was 2005, twenty-four years after I was long gone from the days of those experiences I’ve described, and I found myself sitting with John in a studio at Nashville Public Television, taping a segment for his long-running program, A Word on Words. He was asking me about my first novel, Junior Ray, and saying wonderful things about the book, which was dubbed “hilariously tasteless” by Publishers Weekly and called, in the Mobile Press Register, “perhaps” the most profane literary work in recent history (both of those comments, I must add, were first-rate accolades). John, however, was the first of only a very few individuals who have taken notice of the non-profane parts of Junior Ray, specifically the poetry that makes up much of “The Notes of Leland Shaw.” I have to say, not as hyperbole but as fact, that if John Seigenthaler had been the only one who ever asked me anything at all about my book, that would have been sufficient for the rest of my life.

Then, in less than an Augenblick and thirty-two years after those Nashville “salad” days of “cakes and ale,” last December I was once again with John for A Word on Words at NPT — and I got my picture taken with Doris Kearns Goodwin and Ricky Skaggs . . . talk about covering the proverbial waterfront! This time John would be interviewing me about my third novel, Sailing to Alluvium. [A Word on Words audio available online.] I was almost 76, and John was ten years older. And on that crepuscular occasion and a long time before the cameras rolled, he and I spoke together about those far-away days and especially about “Fate.” We laughed a lot — particularly over a moment one night in Sperry’s. I saw John at a table and I went across the room to speak to him. He was smiling and said: “I was in Washington, and the FBI told me they think ‘Fate’ is involved in organized crime. Do you think ‘Fate’ is involved in organized crime?”

“Well, if he is,” I said, “it’s the end of organized crime.” The humor was automatic and explosive, and I shall remember the exchange even if my brain should shrink to the size of a Chiclet.

John Seigenthaler led a life that gives current meaning to everything Benjamin Jowett saw when he translated that last line in the “The Death of Socrates” from Greek to English: “Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend, whom I may truly call the wisest, and justest, and best of all the men whom I have ever known.”

John Pritchard is the author of Junior Ray, The Yazoo Blues, and Sailing to Alluvium. He resides in Memphis, Tennessee.